Hopeful Travel on a December Day

I listened to a programme about the way the digital age is influencing literature and drama. Thrillers and crime novels are becoming trickier to construct in these days of mobile phones and closed-circuit TV. It is more difficult to make characters disappear and dialogue has become problematic with the advent of text, email, messaging and so on.
This week’s trip to visit Offspring in her new house illustrated perfectly how our lives have been transformed since devices became essential in our lives. A quick glance around a crowded train reveals rows of passengers travelling together on a shared journey  engrossed in their own little world of screen, plugged in, switched on and oblivious to everyone and everything around them.
Things have moved on since stepping into a carriage and settling into a seat would be interrupted by interminable blurtings of ‘I’m on the train’. A mother climbs on with a toddler and searches for a seat before taking out a phone and placing it in front of the child; pacification by screen. Around me individual travellers sporting earphones are watching videos, listening to something, typing something, reading something, scrolling, swiping, clicking. Almost everyone is lost in their own world, communing with unseen entities.
To me, any unfamiliar travel is interesting, whether it offers stunning scenery or not. This winter trip, taken on a dank and gloomy December day is not pretty, does not offer historic sights or amazing vistas-but although I have my own tiny screens tucked away ready for a waiting room or a platform, I am held enough by the changing views from the window. I like it all. I like seeing the misty fields, the sleepy villages and the towering pylons of the docklands. I like the industrial conglomerations and the uniform suburban streets. I love to peer down into the gardens that line the tracks-abandoned toys, vegetable beds unkempt in their winter state, lines of laundry hanging in the damp air, neat rectangles of lawn and summerhouses with misty windows.
We change trains. The platform where we wait offers people watching opportunities and I’m struck by the way travellers dress. There is a plethora of hole-in-the-knee jeans, a look I’ve not been tempted to adopt, having long ago abandoned high fashion in favour of comfort. On the next train I’m taken with the sight of a man reading a paperback. It is a Dave Eggars novel. I’m tempted to ask if it’s any good but fear I’ll be intruding.
We change again-and again. [It is not an easy journey]. I’m struck by the paradox of this travel. Altogether this expedition to the outer reaches of the capital has taken four trains and a bus. All of the vehicles [including the bus] have been stuffed full of phone-wielding, laptop-tapping screen users. Technology moves on apace. Transport does not.
The return is no better, requiring a bus and a further four trains. The windows are dark. I sit back and delve into the reaches of my rucksack for my Kindle…

It’s Christmas. Happy Christmas to all my lovely readers, whoever and wherever you may be…and a happy and peaceful 2018.

 

Advertisements

Tarring with the same Brush

I’ve just spent a week in foreign parts and I’m more convinced than ever that differing nationalities bear traits that identify them.

Observation of such characteristics is one of the strategies I’ve adopted to assuage some of the more tedious aspects of long-haul travel. On the plane I’m happy enough, these days to adopt the upright, confined posture required to utilise the seat, to pay attention to the cabin crew, to watch the movies, to get up and do my exercises, to mutely wait in line for the unsavoury joys of the lavatory, to eat and drink everything that is offered and hope to sleep.

Off the plane however there is the long, zig-zagging queue in the pens for immigration control, the stinging bark of the customs officers [no-we didn’t know we needed to complete the back of the form] and the customary thrill of waiting to discover if your luggage arrived too.

At the rear of the queue an unseemly stampede erupted as one or two of the tapes marking the lanes became unhitched, prompting severe and hasty action on the part of the officials. The couple immediately behind us [whose nationality shall remain nameless but has a reputation for somewhat self-preserving acts on holiday] spotted a gap and ducked under a tape to skip to the front, upon which stern officials corrected the error and they were returned to their place.

After we’d all shuffled along for what seemed hours [although in reality probably only about 30 minutes], a family with very young children were relieved of the stresses of jollying along two tiny tots after an eight hour flight and were ‘fast-tracked’ through to the front.

At the hotel we entered a jolly mix of races from both sides of the Atlantic [and beyond]. There are loud, garrulous types whose principal ambition is to be best buddy with every member of staff, to feel special and take selfies with all of these new best friends. Their conversations with companions are held publicly in order for others to share. A man at the bar told someone the other side of us enquiring after his holiday he had no complaints and smiled nervously when I said complaints were more interesting.

Meanwhile a gentleman with a keen interest in filming everything panned around the bar, the customers, his tiny son, the entertainment, the beach and the diners with abandon, using his mobile phone as if welded to it.

Then there are we British; reserved. We are polite. We say please and thank you-and sorry. I imagine we are held by most other nationalities to be cold and unfriendly. Our sense of humour can be difficult to spot, acerbic, sarcastic and cynical as it is.

And then one night my conclusions were overturned when we met a charming young couple of New Yorkers who initiated conversation. They were interested, interesting and wonderful company. Mea culpa. One should never generalise…

Rage against the Rudeness

Is it just me-or does anyone else think that public behaviour getting ruder?

Yesterday I wanted to make an enquiry at the supermarket phone shop. My phone contract expires in a month or so and there are areas I’d like to improve. The booth was busy-one assistant taken up with a ragged group of browsers, the other moved to help the woman in front of me. This was a woman in a wheelchair whose mobility problems were severe enough for her to have special requirements in a phone. I waited. The lady suggested I take her place as she would be some time but I was more than happy to wait and took up a position behind the chair.

A middle aged man walked into the booth followed by a young girl. He strode to the counter-inserting himself between the wheelchair and the desk; he talked directly to the assistant serving the woman-even though he was engaged in unwrapping a box for her.

‘Excuse me’ I ventured. The man turned to me and said something incomprehensible which, when repeated became ‘I need his voice’. Need his voice? What was he-some kind of radio special effects collector? An advertising director looking for a voiceover artist? A patient wanting a transplant?

The assistant, inexperienced in the ways of customer service, stopped his unwrapping and made an immediate and ill-advised decision to deal with the man. By now I could feel annoyance welling up like indigestion and threatening to belch out. The woman sat impassive throughout; no doubt she is accustomed to such crass treatment, which is telling in itself.

The assistant left the counter and went to the store room. He’d abandoned both the wheelchair lady and me in favour of the rude, boorish man.

I waited until the man had left before telling the hapless assistant what I thought, though once he’d apologised and acknowledged the error I relented. The woman in the chair was, she explained, going to be a long time and would I go first?

Later, as I was driving home a Range Rover driver behind my car flashed his headlights continually for about a mile because I’d had the audacity to enter a roundabout ahead of him. Presumably he owns all the roundabouts. In a similar incident on the motorway a couple of days ago the passenger of a vehicle overtaking our van opened the window and gesticulated graphically because we’d had the boldness to encroach on the overtaking lane ourselves . Perhaps the driver of this car is the proprietor of all overtaking lanes?

Road rage, queue rage, shop rage, trolley rage-no waiting, no ‘after you’, no holding doors, no surrendering seats, no thank-you…

Perhaps it is, after all simply a case of becoming older, less noticeable but more noticing, but how dispiriting this witnessing of deteriorating social skills is! –or am I even more of a grumpy old woman than I’d realised?